Just Because (Mac Barnett)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Just Because, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, a sweet tale of imagination.

As a little girl cuddles into bed for the night, she has a question for her father: “Why is the ocean blue?” Rather than replying with the titular phrase, dad instead answers with a more creative explanation: the fish like to take out their guitars and sing sad songs, which makes them cry blue tears. The little girl counters: why is the sky blue? Well, those are the tears of flying fish, naturally. With each question, her father spins a new imagining of the explanation, from why the leaves change color to what happened to all the dinosaurs. At last, the little girl wonders why she must go to sleep, and her father answers simply: “there are some things we can only see with our eyes closed.”

A sweet ode to creative storytelling, and especially to childhood curiosity and wonder. Each fantasy that the father constructs for his little one is illustrated in lovely detail on a two-page spread, bringing the dream to life in a phenomenal traditional art style, featuring largely grayscale features with explosive pops of color. The explanations themselves are wonderfully creative – especially the dinosaurs, which had JJ and I both giggling – and the ultimate lesson on the importance of dreams, and of fostering them in young and curious minds, is just perfect. The length is fine for a bedtime read, yet the art invites closer examination anytime. JJ enjoyed this one a lot, and so did I – Baby Bookworm approved!

Circle (Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, third in their wonderfully odd Shape trilogy.

Circle is.. well, a circle. She is friends with Triangle and Square (the protagonists of the previous two books), and they often play together. One day, they meet up near Circle’s waterfall to play a game of hide-and-seek, and Circle warns them not to go behind the waterfall because it’s dark. Once she’s done counting, she opens her eyes to find Square in the exact same spot; he informs her that Triangle has gone behind the waterfall. Circle goes in after him, calling out his name as it becomes so dark that only the whites of her eyes can be seen. Spotting Triangle’s matching eyes, she scolds him for running off and worrying her and Square. Caught up in the moment, she insults him, but is quick to make amends. Triangle appears just in time to forgive her – but wait a minute. If those extra eyes weren’t Triangle’s…

I absolutely adore Barnett and Klassen’s work together, which is a perfect blend of Barnett’s hilariously dry, deadpan humor and Klassen’s simple and minimalist, yet rich and visually distinctive design. And for the majority of Circle, they do not disappoint: I found myself giggling at the dialogue (especially as Circle and Triangle realize they are not alone) or how Klassen can deftly convey a character’s intent or emotion with a slight tweak of their eyes. However, where the pair often nail their endings (Sam And Dave Dig A Hole’s is masterful), this one felt a little incomplete. Just as Circle makes a poignant observation that she and Triangle were afraid and ran from the strange shape, despite not knowing anything about it, the next page is an interactive line encouraging the reader to imagine what the strange shape may have been, then the book ends. As a conclusion, it was a little unsatisfying, and while the pair aren’t afraid of an open ending (again, Sam And Dave – read it), this one just felt too abrupt. Still, the rest of the book is just as enjoyable and odd as ever, the length is great, and JJ got quite a few laughs out of it as well. So overall, we’ll call this one Baby Bookworm approved!

Square (Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Square by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, another strange and funny story from the duo that brought you Triangle.

Square is a simple shape. Each morning, he wakes up, chooses one of the cube-shaped rocks from inside his cave, and slowly but surely pushes it up the hill to a pile he’s made at the summit. This is his work. That is, until one day Circle floats by. Mistaking the naturally square-shaped rock for a sculpture, she declares Square a genius, and asks for a likeness of her own. Square tries all night to carve a sculpture of Circle, but just breaks the rock into a mess of rubble. Despondent, Square falls asleep, being awoken by Circle the next morning. He shamefully shows her his work, but she has a unexpected reaction that leaves Square even more confused.

I’ve written before about how much I love Klassen and Barnett’s work, both individually and as collaborators. Their signature dry humor combined with unique stories that often unfold in bizarre and hilarious ways always makes us smile. Klassen’s minimalist art style of simple characters against rich backgrounds, impeccable use of white space, and using eyes and body language to convey emotion is always a treat, and JJ is always enthralled by it. This one has a sort of odd, existential ending that may not satisfy every little bookworm, but will do for plenty (I thought it was hilarious). The length is fine, and once again Barnett and Klassen have given us an amusingly peculiar tale that’s a welcome departure from the norm; we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse (Mac Barnett)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, a delightfully weird fable about making the best of a bad situation.

A mouse is scampering through the woods one day when he comes upon a wolf – who promptly eats him. Trapped in “the belly of the beast”, Mouse bemoans his fate a moment, until he hears another voice telling him to hush, as it’s past bedtime. Shocked, Mouse finds that he is not alone in the wolf’s tummy: Duck, a previous meal of the hungry wolf, has made a lovely home in his new surroundings, complete with bed, fully stocked kitchen, and record player. In fact, he doesn’t mind having been eaten – now that he lives inside the wolf, he doesn’t worry much about getting eaten by wolves anymore. Mouse decides to stay as well, and the two new friends hold a party to celebrate, giving the wolf a terrible tummyache. And THAT’S when the hunter arrives…

If you’ve ever read a Barnett/Klassen collaboration before, you know that their stories are a little dark, a little odd, extremely dry, and funny as all getout, and this one is no different. Klassen’s wide-eyed characters are hilariously expressive (the climactic spread had me rolling with laughter), and while his use of dark/black space here – rather than his usual white space – can make the spreads confusing for very young eyes, it perfectly fits the tone and humor of the book and older readers will love it. The text and dialogue are filled with hilarious deadpan humor, and the ending has a wonderfully unexpected twist payoff. The length is great, and JJ and I both had a scream reading it. A hysterically twisted fable to share, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole (Mac Barnett)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is the hilariously strange Sam & Dave Dig A Hole, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, a silly and surreal story about two boys and their quest to find something spectacular.

On Monday, Sam and Dave (with trusty pet dog in tow) decide to dig a hole. They agree to stop when they find something truly spectacular, but no matter which direction they dig in, they just can’t seem to find anything worth digging up. Even splitting up doesn’t help, and the hole only gets deeper and deeper… until suddenly, they are falling, falling, falling. They land safely and take a look around, and find themselves in their yard once again – with a few differences.

This one was so strange, so clever, and so unexpected, and we absolutely loved it. The humor is outstanding, a mix between visual gags that will have kids both frustrated and amused (each time Sam and Dave change direction in their digging, it’s JUST shy of uncovering larger and larger treasures) and the dry, droll wit that both Klassen and Barnett are masters of. The art fits perfectly with this, with stone-faced protagonists emoting through their eyes and a phenomenal use of white space, and wonderfully sneaky visual clues that the ending is much darker and stranger than it appears. The length is perfect, and JJ and I both loved it. We can highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a bit of humor, a bit of wonder, and a bit of weird. Baby Bookworm approved!